Luke Foley says ‘Liberals at their very worst’ over port fee

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THE national competition watchdog’s investigation into a secret fee that levied by the Coalition state government on the operation of a container terminal in Newcastle has been welcomed by the NSW Opposition.
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State Opposition Leader Luke Foley said the agreement, struck by the NSW Liberals and Nationals when they privatised the ports of Botany, Kembla and Newcastle, was “the Liberals at their very worst”.

“It is astonishing that any government would enter into a secret deal so deliberately designed to hurt Newcastle’s economic development,” Mr Foley said in a statement on Sunday.

The n Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) confirmed last week it was inquiring into the secret fee, levied by the state government on the operation of a container terminal in Newcastle.

The ACCC inquiry is expected to look closely at a “strictlyconfidential” arrangement the Coalition government promised to the private operatorofPort Botany and Port Kembla to compensate itagainst anycompeting container terminal in Newcastle. With then-treasurer Mike Baird driving the deal, Botany and Kembla were leased for 99 years to a single operator in April 2013 for $5 billion. Newcastle went on a 98-year lease, a year later, for $1.7 billion, just days after Mr Baird’s elevation as premier.

Rumours soon emerged about restraints on Newcastle’s ability to compete with Botany on containers, but the government insisted despitemore than 100 parliamentary questionsthat there was no legislative barrier to a Newcastle terminal.

It was not until July 2016, when the Newcastle Heraldobtained a copy of a“port commitment” document, that the governmentconfirmed that Newcastle could build a container terminal, but if it did, it would have to compensate Botany for any containers it handled above a limit of 30,000 a year. The fee was equivalent to what Botany would charge if it was handling the containers, effectively doubling Newcastle’s costs by adding about $1 million a ship.

Mr Foley saidthe aim was to boost the sale price of Port Botany by selling its container business as a NSW monopoly; an entrenched monopoly fetched more than a business facing robust competition.

Labor has called on the NSW government to publicly release all the secret arrangements it entered into as part of it privatisation program and to guarantee its full cooperation with the ACCC’s inquiry.

“The NSW Liberals and Nationals concocted an arrangement that is clearly anti-competitive and designed toentrench a private monopoly,” he said.

“I call on the ACCC to use all of its investigative powers to expose what the Liberals and Nationals got up toand to finally reveal the truth.

Opposition spokesperson for maritime and freight, Jodi McKay, said the Premier Gladys Berejiklian should be ashamed.

“After what the Liberals did with their secret deals I’m surprised that Premier Berejiklian has the nerve to show her face in Newcastle,” she said.

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